Is North Korea Causing Trouble or Giving Peace a Chance?

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The other seemingly positive development was Mr. Pence’s telling The Washington Post that the Trump administration was willing to hold preliminary talks with North Korea even as Washington continues to toughen sanctions and apply other pressures. Only days earlier Mr. Pence insisted there would be no talks until the North made concessions, including taking steps to give up its nuclear weapons.

The new iteration would align Mr. Pence with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. President Trump, who has dismissed engagement with North Korea as “appeasement,” hasn’t repudiated Mr. Pence’s comments.

The administration has long been hostile to the North and critical of its participation in the Games. In recent days, Mr. Pence used increasingly hostile language, calling the North the most tyrannical regime on the planet.

Mr. Pence did not shake hands with, or even smile at, Ms. Kim, as he sat in front of her at the opening ceremony. He could have at least stood when South Korean and North Korean athletes marched in together.

North Korea is a reprehensible regime and the world must never forget that. Still, leaders seeking solutions to major problems like North Korea’s nuclear program don’t have the luxury of picking their adversaries. Mr. Pence might have used the occasion to raise American concerns with Ms. Kim directly, although the South Koreans say she didn’t seem to want to speak with him, either.

All of which leaves unresolved the question of whether North Korea is exploiting South Korea’s desire for peace in order to secure economic or other benefits and break the alliance with the United States, or it wants to resolve the nuclear crisis and other disputed issues.

Neither does anyone know whether Mr. Trump, who has been effective at winning international support for tougher sanctions against North Korea, is serious about pursuing negotiations. Both are wild cards. Much will depend on how the North-South dialogue evolves.

But a special burden rests with North Korea, whose nuclear program violates United Nations Security Council resolutions and is a real threat. If Mr. Kim is serious about resolving the crisis, he could send an early signal by releasing the three Americans still held in North Korean prisons or announcing a pause in his nuclear and missiles testing.

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By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
2018-02-13 21:13:34
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